Puppies love to run and they love to dart about the house. They love to splash in their water bowls and topple over the plants, and they love to run even more when you let them outside. At times, puppies seem to have boundless energy. And it is at those times when you may find yourself believing that you will never be able to take it out on the street because you fear you won’t be able to control it in public. But you can, and with some time and patience, you will soon be enjoying a trot down the street and down to the park with your puppy at your side.
All you need to learn is how to train a puppy to walk on a leash. Puppies learn at their own pace. Your puppy may only take a few weeks, or it may take two months, but as long as you have patience and follow these guidelines, you can do it. Before long, your puppy will wear a collar, accept a leash, and prance alongside you wherever you go.
Start with a collar
The process of teaching a puppy to walk on a leash begins with letting it grow comfortable with wearing a collar. Puppies as young as six weeks can wear collars, so you can introduce your puppy to a collar as soon as you bring it home. Your local pet store will offer a variety of collar choices, but puppies of all breeds will typically accept flat collars with simple buckles. Unless your breeder or veterinarian recommends otherwise, there is no reason for you to choose anything else. Be sure to choose the right collar for your pup, and our article which has a comparison of the best dog collars will come in handy for you.
The first time you put the collar on your puppy, he should be preoccupied with eating or playing. The distraction will allow you to buckle the collar around his neck. Don’t make it too tight, you should be able to slip two fingers between the collar and your pooch’s neck. He may try to scratch or shake off the collar which is a natural reaction to a foreign object. Almost like the sensation you’d feel from first wearing a new watch. But as long as the collar fits properly, you can allow your puppy to resist.
The collar won’t come off. Alternatively, you can distract him with a toy. But whatever method you choose, allow your pooch to gradually adjust to its new collar by wearing it for about an hour or two each day for a week.
The whole point is to allow your puppy to get used to wearing the collar to the point where it forgets that it is around its neck. Do not remove the collar while he is actively resisting it as removing the collar while your pet is squirming across the floor will teach him that fighting the collar is the way to get it to come off. If he learns that then both of you will have difficulties transitioning into the next phase.
Before the week is out, your pooch should be used to wearing the collar. The next step in leash training is to let Fido become used to having a leash attached to the collar. You can do this simply by attaching a short leash to the collar and then allow your puppy to wander around the house. He may be intimidated by the leash, at first, but it will soon learn that the leash is nothing to be afraid of.
Also, when he steps on the leash, you should pull it up short. This will help the dog to accept tugging on the collar. If your puppy bites or chews on the leash, you can consider soaking it in Grannick’s Bitter Apple, hot sauce, lemon juice, or other taste deterrent. Puppies learn quickly not to bite things that don’t taste good.
Choosing a collar
Generally, a simple, flat band and buckle collar will work best for young dogs but snap collars are good too. Head halters (which pull the head down much like a horse) are effective for aggressive dogs, but you should check with your breeder or veterinarian first. Avoid fabrics, because these crack and fray easily. Also, don’t use a harness, metal choke collars, or the type with prongs unless under the supervision of professional trainers. You could harm your pet if not handled properly.
Choosing a leash
To encourage Fido to walk beside you, choose a leash between four and six feet. Width should be relative to the size of your dog’s breed. The leash can be made of any strong, durable material you wish, as long as it has a handle that feels comfortable in your grip. Longer leashes, especially the retractable style, are more suited for letting your puppy exercise in the park while you sit and watch.
If your puppy uses a crate, you should remove the collar before you let it in. Collars can sometimes catch on the frame of the crate or on the links of fences, dog pens, and kennel runs. The severity of this situation depends on your dog’s size, so ask your veterinarian if it you should keep an eye on such dangers. For more information regarding crate training, see our tips and tricks on how to train your new pup using the crate training method.
Taking the first walk
Once your puppy gets used to wearing a leash, you can begin the walk training. He or she will most likely need plenty of encouragement, so before you start, ensure that you have treats handy. Also, your puppy will require plenty of patience, so be prepared to have yours tested with stops and starts and tangles around the furniture (your legs, too). Our puppy training schedule is a worthy read if you need to know how to easily train your pup to follow basic commands.
The first step is to make sure that your puppy is in the mood for learning. If he is hungry or bored, it will more likely be interested in learning to walk on a leash than it will be if it just ate or came in from running around the back yard. Next, clear the practice area (preferably your living room or other area Fido is familiar with) of potential distraction.
Don’t forget that potential distractions also include other people so if other people are in the room, your puppy may attempt to engage them in play. Also, make sure that there will be plenty of space for your pooch to stay beside you. After all, having your puppy trot alongside you is your goal.
Once you are prepared, take the end of the leash, and show it to the puppy. Connect the leash and then, holding it loosely, start walking around the house. Train Fido to walk on your left side; the American Kennel Club requires show dogs to walk at the handler’s left, and most professional trainers teach the same. If you heard of using the clicker method to train your dog, an article which we have written about, you may also employ that by all means.
Many also employ the following tips to encourage puppies to walk beside their owners.
- If Fido follows, give it a treat and offer praise.
- If he resists, stop walking. Call him by his name and offer praise when he manages to come.
- If it sits and won’t move, get down on one knee and offer a treat; praise Fido when it finally gets the idea and comes to you.
- If your puppy pulls on the leash, don’t pull back. Instead, stop and wait for the leash to loosen, and then walk forward again.
The object is to encourage your puppy to walk beside you with a loose leash. Holding treats out beside you can help with this, but you should alternate between treats and praise so that you don’t overfeed your puppy. Keep at this for about 15 to 20 minutes, twice a day. Once your puppy is able to walk beside you with a loose leash for the majority of that time, it is time to go outdoors.
Out to the street
Before you take your puppy out for its first walk, make sure to plan your route beforehand. Take into account any stops you will have to make, such as traffic lights, parking lots, and crosswalks.
Remember: the more interruptions in your walk the greater the chance for distractions. Your puppy will want to smell everything, pee on everything, or even cower from everything. There is no simple solution in dealing with these problems, but you can forestall many of them by walking with a fast pace. This will give your puppy less opportunities to sniff, pee, or cower. And besides, if you are moving fast, your puppy will be more interested in keeping up.
Begin by holding your leash at your hip. You should hold firmly at your hip the entire time you are walking. Hook a thumb in a belt loop or tuck your hand in a pocket if you must because your puppy may sense if you lower your hand and attempt to take advantage by darting out and pulling the leash tight. You should handle the outdoor walks the same way you handled them indoors. If your puppy follows with a loose leash, give constant praise. If it resists, stop walking and call for it to come. If it refuses to move, offer encouragement.
If it pulls on the leash, stop and wait. Waiting tells your puppy that no matter how much it pulls, you aren’t going to move. He will eventually remember this process from the indoor sessions, and will comply. Just make sure that you are ready with the treats.
Don’t give your puppy a treat until it has walked beside your for at least thirty seconds. As he continues walking alongside you, alternate between praise and treats every thirty seconds or so. The treats and praise will encourage your puppy to remain beside you, and before long, your puppy will grow accustomed to this position and your pace. As your puppy begins to show discipline, you should reduce the number of treats you hand out during each walk.
One of the things you will find that your puppy will do on its journey to master the art of walking on a leash is that it will often look back at you. Your puppy is looking for praise (or more likely, a treat), but it is also looking for signals of direction. He wants to know if it is going fast enough, or if you are going to make a turn. Take these opportunities to praise your puppy and relax. You’ve taught your puppy well.
Handling distracting situations
No matter where you walk with your young friend, it will eventually be confronted with a distracting situation. Cars rolling past, puddles in your path, darting squirrels, walkers, bikers, skaters, eager children, other dogs… It doesn’t matter if you’re walking along the subdivision streets, in the neighborhood park, or down a nature trail—a distraction will confront your puppy. Whatever the distraction may be, dogs of all ages will react to sudden and unexpected situations, and you must be prepared to handle them.
Your puppy may pull the leash taut to get at the distraction. Or it may bark, growl, or even cower away until the distraction goes way. None of these things are acceptable while training your puppy to walk. The easiest way to deal with these distractions is to command your puppy to sit at your feet as soon as you see a potential distraction approaching. If he doesn’t obey, gather in the leash and hold it firmly by the collar until the distraction passes.
Meanwhile, talk to your puppy in a calm voice. If your puppy obeyed you, offer praise; if you had to pull your puppy away from the distraction, the tone of your voice will help it to calm down.
Handling the urge to “potty”
It is inevitable that your puppy will need to relieve itself on walks. If he attempts to pull away in order to relieve itself, control it in the same manner as you would any other attempt to pull away. Stop, call for him to come back, but instead of a treat, reward your puppy by allowing it to relieve itself where it wanted. Soon, you’ll find that your puppy is stopping less often to relieve itself.
Maintaining self control
Many puppies get excited when they sense it is time for their walk. They may bark, jump, scratch at your legs, or even start to whine while you attempt to connect the leash. This excitement, if not curbed immediately, will continue outside. Teach your puppy that this is not acceptable behavior by standing still and waiting until it calms down.
Reach down to connect the leash, and if your puppy starts to misbehave again, repeat the process. It may take some time, but eventually, he’ll learn.
Some puppies can be aggressive when learning to walk and they will pull on the leash every time you take a step, sometimes to the point where they jerk their owner’s arm out in front of them when stopped. A common solution to this problem is to give the leash a slight jerk when your puppy gets near to the end of the leash, a method that some trainers refer to as “leash pop” or “collar correction.”
Collar correction requires a delicate balance between timing and pressure. Walk with your arm slightly bent. As your puppy approaches the maximum length of the leash, give it a verbal warning. If it slows down, give it praise. If it continues forward and pulls the leash taut, reach out for slack and then give the leash a slight jerk. This should always be a slight jerk and never a yank or a pull, which could cause permanent damage.
The resistance from a jerk or two is an adequate signal to your puppy that it is doing something it shouldn’t. Larger breeds may require a little more effort behind the jerk, simply because they are stronger and weigh more, yet the principle remains the same. Over time, your puppy will learn that it gets a jerk every time it tries to get out too far ahead of you, but receives treats and praise when it remains at your side.
Professional trainers can teach you how to walk your young friend, but, if you’re confident in your relationship, you can do it on your own. You can read on more puppy training topic in our in-depth basic dog training guide. Start with allowing your puppy to get used to its collar, and then its leash. Next, with an abundance of patience (and perhaps a pocketful of treats), lead Fido through the steps that will take you both to the streets. The journey may be a little rough at times, and you may have to backtrack, but eventually, your puppy will walk beside you with a proud gait. And look back at you often with love.